30km (19 miles) N of Amsterdam
Every Friday morning during the long Dutch summer season, a steady parade of tourists arrives to visit the famous cheese market in this handsome, canal-lined town (pop. 94,000), founded in the 10th century. It's quite a show they're on their way to see. For another town with a cheesy disposition, see the section on Edam.
Getting There -- Trains depart every 15 minutes or so from Amsterdam Centraal Station to Alkmaar; the ride takes around 35 minutes. A round-trip ticket is 13€ in second class or 22€ in first class. By car from Amsterdam, take the A8, N246, N203, and A9 north.
Visitor Information -- VVV Alkmaar, Waagplein 2, 1811 JP Alkmaar (tel. 072/511-4284; fax 072/511-7513; www.vvvalkmaar.nl), is in the center. The office is open April to September, Monday to Thursday and Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and Friday from 9am to 5pm; and October to March, Monday from 1am to 5pm, and Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm.
What to See & Do
At the Friday morning Kaasmarkt (Cheese Market) in Waagplein, yellow-skinned Edam, Gouda, and Leidse (Leiden) cheeses are piled high on the cobblestone square. The carillon in the 16th-century Waaggebouw (Weigh House) tower hourly showers the streets with tinkling Dutch folk music, accompanying a jousting performance of mechanical knights. The square is filled with sightseers, barrel organs, souvenir stalls, and tangible excitement. White-clad kaasdragers (cheese porters) dart around wearing colored lacquered-straw hats in red, blue, yellow, or green as a sign of which more-than-400-year-old guild they belong to. Porters, who aren't permitted to smoke, drink, or curse while on duty, are so proud of their standards that every week they post on a "shame board" the name of any carrier who indulged in profanity or showed up late at the auction.
Bidding is carried on in the traditional Dutch manner of hand clapping to bid the price up or down; a good, solid hand clap seals the deal. Once a buyer has accumulated his lot of cheeses, teams of porters move in with shiny, shallow barrows, and, using slings that hang from their shoulders, carry the golden wheels and balls of cheese to the scales in the Weigh House for the final tally. The market is held from the first Friday of April to the first Friday of September, from 10am to 12:30pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.